What a rush!
Not just that it was exciting… but that it was go-go-go, too!
A friend (John Grasson) who writes about desert history and mysteries was contacted to help make part of a TV show episode about one of his interests. John knew I had some photos of a place in Baja related to this subject, so he told the producer about me. After a couple of months and getting the details worked out, it was time to film the episode. The show is America Unearthed and the episode is Vikings in the Desert.
The Baja portion of the show is the final part of the three areas they visit in this one episode, so if we are lucky, it will make up about 15 minutes of air time. I can tell you that the host and crew LOVED Baja… and the food, of course. The photography and video opportunities were great, despite the on and off rain of the three days of shooting.
I was a passenger, but much of the time it was the host and I in one vehicle of the three, plus the Mexican film liaison/ fixer with a security guard for us and the equipment (just in case?), and a third person who made sure the cast and crew had water, snacks, etc. between the meals.
Here is my experiences and a few photos:
On Saturday afternoon, they pick me up in the San Diego area and we drive to the Otay Border. I meet the producers, and Scott Wolter, who I have been watching on TV for the past three years. I am wired for sound and Scott and I are recorded talking about the site and they included some border crossing/ immigration issues. The producer (Zak Hanson) is giving us instructions over the two-way radio from another van, since there are cameramen in the seats behind the host and I in our van.
I was told I had to wear the same shirt all three days of shooting because it needs to seem like just one day so the flow of the story remains consistent, without the people watching getting sidetracked about seeing different clothes over the few minutes of this part of the episode. It is cool that the part I am in is the final part so the other two locations are leading up to the Baja location. Committee Films, the show’s producer, asked me that until the show’s air date is announced, I not give out the name of the show or mention Scott Wolter in my Internet posts.
Until I switch places, I am back with one of the cameramen…
The crew is 6 people: The Head Director (& owner of Committee Films), Field Producer, Director of Photography, ‘B’ Camera, Assistant Camera, & Sound Mixer. These are people you don’t see in the show, typically… Just Scott and his guests (both referred to as “The Talent”!). In addition, there were three Mexican (film liaison) personal. For the Mission San Fernando locked gate issue, I contacted Ed of Baja’s Best in El Rosario, so he was hired to obtain permission from the property owner and get the key for the now locked gate, about a mile east of the mission.
We have rooms at the Tijuana Marriott that (Saturday) night and again on Monday night, heading north. We stay at Baja Cactus, El Rosario on Sunday night… Everyone loved Baja Cactus and preferred it over the Marriott!
While waiting at the Otay border Mexican customs for all the permit paperwork to get processed (about 1.5-2 hours?), Scott takes a selfie of us:
The Mexican ‘fixer’ leads us to the U.S. customs area for an export permit for all the media gear and then we cross into Mexico for the Mexican customs import permit. This takes a long time as there is a long wait to get in front of the officer. No inspection is made of our vehicles, as they trust the ‘fixer’ apparently. The fixer told us to just stay with the vans and that we did not need to get tourist cards since we were not leaving Baja Norte, and I did question her about that. It was about 5:00.
We had rooms at the Marriott in Tijuana. I think it was close to 7 pm.
After getting settled, we all met back up in the lounge and had drinks and got to know each other a bit more. Four of us (included the host and I) moved on to the restaurant in the hotel and a few went walking to a recommended place, around the block. The food was good, and the drinks were even better, lol. The Paloma cocktail was a biggie with them.
Day 2: On Sunday we drive south and I suggest they should stop at El Mirador for the view, the fixer agreed… and they were so thrilled that they did a shoot there. I also suggested Mission San Vicente and Mi Ranchita restaurant at the turnoff if it was near lunchtime. I met resistance from the fixer on that but only because she wanted to take us to Parcela 12, south of San Quintín! I totally agreed to that plan! They really were focused on the subject of the show and not add any extra mission stuff (ahh).
Scott and I exchanged lines about the Viking legends at El Mirador. They have a script outline they want me to read about a Viking legend on Tiburon Island. It is not one of my historical research stories.
A rain downpour interrupted filming until it passed over and we almost lost the drone!
El Mirador Photos:
Well, at El Mirador the host and media crew were blown away by the view… we had a sunny time and then a downpour, which we waited out, and then more shooting. The host and I had a few lines to say… There were scripts for us to follow but we could do them in our own style or make changes if the producer okayed them, lol.
We stopped at a Starbucks in Ensenada and then had lunch in Camalu. They sent the drone up there. We also stopped a couple times to get film of the Kia cruising all alone down Highway 1 (with the idea that is Scott and I inside). The sunset scene south of San Quintín, then Baja Cactus at dark. Great dinner at Mama Espinoza’s and we all got to know each other better… fun times!
Two cameramen are in the back seat filming Scott and I when we have lines to speak, as Scott is driving:
As the sun is about to set, we pull off south of San Quintín for some photo and drone shots:
We arrive at El Rosario about 6 pm and I talk to Antonio (Baja Cactus) on the phone, he was expecting us earlier and finally left to get to San Quintín for something (I was hoping to show them the missions and museum, with Antonio getting on the show, too).
The rooms are great and we walk next door to Mama Espinoza’s Restaurant, which was a hit (they serve Margaritas and Palomas and shots). I had the crab soup (Caldo de Jaiba, recommended by my friend Udo) and it was great. Scott eyed it a lot and ordered it when we returned for lunch, the following day.
Day 3, Monday (President’s Day):
We have an early start, a 6 am departure. Mama’s doesn’t open until 8 am and offered the night before to make burritos for the road. Nobody wants to do that so we have granola bars or just wait to eat until lunch. We drove down to collect Ed Lusk at his Baja’s Best Bed & Breakfast. I had contacted Ed a few months previously as he knows the ranchos and ejidos in the area and as I suspected he was able to secure the key to the locked gate on the road to the mission and petros as well as a release to film there for Committee Films. Ed was compensated for his efforts since we were not staying at his business (we needed 11 rooms and his place has about 5 or 6). Ed and his son followed us in his Jeep, the 40 miles to the mission valley.
Rain clouds were coming in but we did have morning sun to light up the rock face… but it would still rain on us in the middle of shooting. Look for my jacket zipped up or open. Another interesting thing, I had to wear the same shirt all three days of shooting so the audience isn’t sidetracked by wardrobe switching… it is to look like this all happened in one day, not 3. Fortunately, I wore a nice flannel one on the first day, and switched to the others when we ate dinner!
Scott was amazed by the giant cardón and you could tell the film crew really liked the locations!
This was the 6th episode they were filming but the order in which the episode shows on the Travel Channel is determined by the network. The opinion at the time was this would show in June as one of the early showings. Well, the Network must have really been impressed with this episode because they made it the first episode or “season opener”! That is so, to get great ratings and attract sponsors, audience, etc.
There was a lot of rain in Baja this month and one mud hole had to be charged through (all of the vehicles are 2WD). A big puddle between Hwy. 1 (KM. 121) and the mission had to be driven around with the head producer getting really uptight about scratching these rental cars!
The gate to Mission San Fernando is locked now but I knew how to get the key and permission from the landowner.
This is the same cattle gate I came across in June 2017 but now has a chain and lock added sometime before November 2018. There was no gate in 2016 or all the years before, back to 1974 when I first visited this location. Some people lived at San Fernando on and off to 2005 or so.
Past the mission, the road got overgrown enough that the producer did not want to drive any closer. It is just 3/4 mile from the mission to the petroglyphs, where they wanted to film. So we all walked the rest of the way. The giant cardón and boojum trees blew them away! We got filmed walking and taking… had to re-walk the same stretch at least four times doing the lines over as well as getting drone footage… all well before reaching the cliff. It is very very interesting to get a look at how these adventure shows are filmed and seeing all the things that you don’t see on the show. The crew from the U.S. consisted of several people doing sound, camera, production, and the host. You only usually see the host and the guest (me in this case).
Rain came and went before we were done. But, it was a wrap and they loved it all! Back to El Rosario we went, and got there about noon.
After the shoot, we returned to Baja Cactus and had breakfast/lunch at Mama Espinoza’s, pre-ordered by phone as we drove back to town. Scott was eyeballing the crab soup that I had the evening before and he ordered his own for our lunch!
Antonio came to Mama’s to meet us. I also had dropped off ten copies of my book as a donation to help raise money for his Desert Hawks Emergency Rescue Service. Please buy my Baja California Land of Missions book at his motel, front desk, to donate to Antonio’s efforts. I believe he asks a reduced price for them. https://www.facebook.com/HalconesdelDesierto/
It was a long drive back to Tijuana that night, we stayed again at the Marriott, and we had a wrap-up dinner and drinks in the cantina to talk about the trip. They were so ecstatic at the Baja portion of the trip. The head director (whose wife often edits the shows) said he was personally going to edit this episode… and his team members leaned over to me and said that means he really likes it and has a good feeling about its success.
The drive was mostly wet, but the sun popped out after the construction zone in Santo Tomás for a great rainbow!
OK, so we were back at the Marriott for Monday night and had a great time in the lounge and the host gave me a toast and I reciprocated with a toast to such a great and professional crew who were so much fun to work for and travel with! They want to return!
The next morning (Tuesday after Presidents Day) we loaded up the three vehicles and headed for the Otay Border to do the exit paperwork with customs in Mexico and then into the U.S. secondary. No line, as there is a moveable barrier to put us in front, by the U.S. booth from Mexican Customs.
We had a super easy border crossing at Otay, following the fixer into Mexican customs using a gated back way. She got the exit papers pretty quickly and we could get into the northbound U.S. line through a gate, just a couple car-lengths from the border booths. Only the one van full of equipment had to go to secondary (for paperwork) and the other two vehicles drove on across after presenting our passports and a look inside the back hatch of our van.
The crew needs to turn in their 3 rentals and catch a plane back to Minnesota. We park at a gas station to fill up and they call a Lyft or Uber to take me back to La Mesa where my truck was parked.
We waited for the third van at a gas station and after saying goodbyes, I got on a Lyft to return to where my Tacoma was parked (my stepson’s home). The crew had a flight to catch. I gave everyone who wanted it, a signed copy of my book.
It will be interesting (to me) to see how they edited 3 days of filming down to a few minutes of air time!
A very fun and interesting experience… It seems so much work and expense for a few minutes on a tv show! I have no idea what it looks like, I get no advance view or a copy of the show, so I hope my DVR works that night!
The show (#6 of the season’s filming) was made #1 of the Fourth Season of America Unearthed (2019) by Travel Channel and it aired in May 2019. The four days we were together was reduced to just four minutes of TV show time!
A Travel Channel promo photo of Scott Wolter examining what looks like a Viking ship in Baja California:
See the 4-minutes of the show filmed in Baja California: https://youtu.be/p7qPoqHSPXE
My Baja Bound article about this trip: https://www.bajabound.com/bajaadventures/bajatravel/tv_goes_to_baja
Three months later, I am traveling again with a TV show crew for Cameron Steele’s 2019 Trail of Missions RECON. That trip was made into a 5-part series, on YouTube.
In 2020, an Amazon Prime TV show episode, called ‘The Last Mission’ was planned for me to be on. Covid travel restrictions cancelled that! The show did go on at a later date and I was filmed here at my home and appear four times giving some historical narrative during the show.
Thanks for joining me on another Baja Travel Adventure! See more at https://vivabaja.com